The robot races held at the University of New Brunswick on Thursday were only part of a much bigger exercise in collaboration and problem-solving for a group of 79 high school students.

The annual Shad program is taking place at the university's Fredericton campus this month, teaching grade 10 to 12 students from across Canada and abroad about entrepreneurship and innovation.

This year's theme is reducing the carbon footprint - in a broad sense, said business faculty professor Daniel Doiron, who oversees the entrepreneurial projects at Shad.

"Shad is really about building up the entrepreneurial spirit in exceptional, young students," he said. "And they come up with some really neat ideas."

Focus on problem-solving

Doiron said once the students arrive at the month-long camp, they are split into different groups, which then must come up with a problem they want to solve, and build a product or service to fix it. 

"They have to build a business plan to launch a business to market that product, they need marketing plans, and websites," he said.

"Finally we bring in some venture capitalists, and they have to pitch their business idea to the venture capitalists. So they do that all in about three-and-a-half weeks."

Daniel Doiron, oversees CHAD program at UNB

Daniel Doiron said Shad is about building entrepreneurial spirit. (CBC)

Student Ethan Guo from Waterloo, Ontario, said he was part of a group with a focus on agriculture, "working on a way to reduce your carbon footprint by growing your own fruits and vegetables at home."

Another student, 16-year-old Maryam Saleem from Toronto, said she worked on a way to stop people from wasting the food they have at home.

Maryam Saleem, CHAD competition, UNB

16-year-old Maryam Saleem from Toronto worked on a way to stop people from wasting food at home. (CBC)

Saleem added that she's trying to come up with creative ways to attract people's attention, including incorporating art into her work.

"Right now, we need to solve [world] problems which have never been solved before, so creativity makes it easy to solve these problems," she said.

Exceptional students

Doiron added he's also heard from students who are working on ways of heating shower water before using it.

CHAD competition at UNB, Fredericton

Students are split into groups, which then must come up with a problem they want to solve, and build a product or service to fix it. (CBC)

Another group, last year, developed sensors that sense the enzymes of apples in orchards, so the farmers know when the fruits are ripe, so they "can pick pick them at the right time," he said.

Since its inception in 1980, more than 15,500 students have participated in Shad, with 800 accepted to the program each year. UNB is one of the biggest hosts for the program, and one of 13 universities in the countries to participate.

Those who apply must be exceptional students in grade 10 to 12, but otherwise the program is open to students from all socio-economic backgrounds, and many of the participants participate on a scholarship, added Doiron.

"It's not an elite group," he said, adding that one or two groups go to the finals in the fall, the Shad cup, where they get to pitch to venture capitalists with the possibility of winning money, attracting mentors and the opportunity to build their products.

With files from Catherine Harrop